Recapping May: On the heels of a relatively active month for severe weather and tornadoes in April, May 2015 continued the pace. Although the month started slow with no tornadoes for the first two days and only a handful through the 5th, the greatest single day tornado event of 2015 occurred on May 6th. This was actually expected to be proceeded by a much more significant event on the 9th, but the former won out with 59 tornado reports, as the 9th did not fully live up to the hype/potential*.
The first third of May paced at a somewhat above average count of tornadoes. Steady tornado events continued fairly regularly through the middle and latter portion of the month. Although there was no “defining” tornado outbreak after May 10th, there were multiple instances of picturesque tornadoes. While the previous forecast for May hinged on a near-average month, it looks like the period will end up at least slightly above average. The analog May of 1991 turned out to be the best fit among the four analogs from the 1990s. It was also the most active one of those four. The very persistent troughing across the Inter-mountain West to High Plains was well-indicated in both the forecast ensembles and analog data. Long-range forecasts may not always work out that well, but in this case, the verification speaks for itself. Only four days in the month reported no tornadoes, 5/1, 5/2, 5/12 and 5/31**, which includes an 18-day streak of reported tornadoes from the 13th to 30th.
To quickly touch on the Plains long-term drought, it has been reduced significantly. Consistent bouts of heavy rain and convective activity have eliminated most of the drought area in the central to southern Plains. It now covers just a fraction of an area that it had before. In terms of tornado activity, the moisture transport northward has boosted the storm potential, but in a way, has also hampered the ability to easily storm chase. Without much EML (elevated mixed layer) influence this May and a tendency for storms to congeal into MCSs (mesoscale convective systems), countless tornadoes have been produced by high-precipitation supercells. Many of those tornadoes were rain-wrapped and/or difficult to see. Portions of Oklahoma reported a record-breaking 20 inches of more of rainfall in the month of May this year. A large portion of the southern Plains came in with precipitation anomalies of +8 inches or more for the month. That essentially means an extra two to three months worth of rain fell, if not more. This has caused major flooding in much of the region.
June 1st through 10th: A general continuation of the recent pattern should continue through at least the first week of June. While the month begins with ridging across the southern Plains, the short-range models and global models alike are in strong forecast agreement with the upper level pattern. A trough is progged to dig into the West Coast with ripples of shortwave energy swinging into the central/northern Plains from June 1-3. Even though neither one of those three days appears particularly significant in terms of tornado potential, multiple severe reports, including tornadoes, should occur each day. After that, the parent trough is expected to continue digging and beyond that is where the forecast gets a little bit tricky. When looking back at the ensemble forecasts, the models had a ridge bias and did not really pick up on the trough becoming as amplified as it may. (For example, the most recent run, May 28th, of the Euro Weeklies looks much different for the second half of the first week of June, in comparison to the May 31st Euro ensemble run, which is more amplified) The trough could also become cutoff as some model projections indicate. The current expectation is that the trough axis may be just a little bit too far west to favor an outbreak-type severe setup in the Plains. With that said, whether the trough eventually ejects east to cause a significant event, or rather just a string of steady days (much like April and May of this year), there should be fairly consistent tornado threats through about the 7th or 8th of June. Rounding out the period, whatever is left of negative height anomalies in the West should relax to near climatology.
Verdict: Somewhat above average tornado activity between June 1st and 10th. Fairly consistent bouts of severe weather, including tornadoes, are expected through the first week of June. Much like the previous six to eight weeks, while there may not be a higher-end severe setup on any particular day, tornado reports should be observed on most of these days.
June 11th through 30th: Fighting with climatology and the computer model forecasts, there is only so long that relatively amplified troughing can dominate the pattern across the western half of the U.S. Starting with analog guidance, the results are fairly mixed. The general pattern assessed in the top four analogs (based off of GEFS 8-14 day prog from 00z 5/31 and extending out 20 days) is characterized as featuring ridging across the western U.S. to central/southern Plains and some troughing across the Great Lakes. It sounds a bit like what happened to start 2015. However, the individual four analogs (based on early June 2015 forecasts) diverge greatly in the period 10 to 20 days following. The 1991 analog, which was a strong match to May 2015, continues to show up. That June featured slightly below average tornado counts. Another analog that was also mentioned in the May 2015 tornado forecast is 1990. This one also shows up for the month of June and that particular month was well above average in terms of tornadoes. On the flip side, the other two analogs showed well below average tornado counts. The expected pattern to start June 2015 resembles late June 2006. That June finished fairly quiet and was followed up by one of the quietest months of July on record in terms of tornado activity. The final GEFS-based analog is 2002. That June was even quieter than 2006 and July of that year was also well below average for tornadoes.
What can be made out of these mixed signals? Based on persistence and trends observed so far this spring, the computer forecast models have generally erred on the side of too much ridging occurring too quickly in a long-range forecast. It is inevitable that ridging will eventually prevail, but that does not entirely shut off the tornado season. In fact, it is very possible, if not probable, that troughing across the Great Lakes and/or Northeast could enhance the threat of severe weather from the Midwest into the Ohio Valley. A northwest flow regime tends to favor tornadoes in that region, especially the Ohio Valley. The expectation with this forecast is that mid-June should feature decent tornado potential, but that late June may not be as active. All four of the analogs above were eventually followed by a sharp drop-off in the tornado season, whether that came in late June or July. Also, one cannot forget June 16-18, 2014, in which an otherwise quiet tornado season become extremely active seemingly out of nowhere.
Moisture return cannot be overlooked and this sets June 2015 apart from recent months of June. The soil moisture content across much of the Plains is much higher than it has been in at least two to three years. The period from May 1-29, 2015 featured slightly to somewhat above average soil moisture content from the Southwest into most of the Plains. This available moisture alone would tend to favor tornadoes, even if upper air and kinematic support are marginal. If the jet stream can stay active and provide enhanced flow aloft, a setup like mid-June 2014 could be possible sometime in June 2015. If such a setup did occur, available moisture would probably not be a concern at all. The bigger question becomes, can the Plains and Midwest eventually see more EML influence? That may be the difference between another “climo month,” versus a more memorable month for tornadoes.
So far in 2015, it has been an active tornado season in two areas. One lies from north Texas/Red River Valley into central Oklahoma. The other is across the central to southern High Plains. Looking ahead to June 2015, early June features tornado prospects from the central/northern High Plains eastward into the Dakotas and Nebraska. Later in June, signs point toward Siouxland eastward through the Midwest and into portions of the lower Great Lakes/Ohio Valley.
Verdict: Near to slightly average tornado activity between June 11th and 30th.
- June 1-10 forecast: Somewhat above average tornado counts in the U.S.
- June 11-20 forecast: Near average tornado counts in the U.S.
- June 21-30 forecast: Slightly below average tornado counts in the U.S.
June 2015 tornado estimate: 255 tornadoes in the U.S. (slightly above average)
*As has been the case many times this year, morning convective activity and MCS dominance have mitigated the frequency of discrete supercells.
**This is subject to change as it may take a day or two for official reports to come in for May 31st.